Michel: Public radio rooted in the Wisconsin Idea

Celebrating 100 years of public radio
Michel: Public radio rooted in the Wisconsin Idea
Photo by Maija Inveiss

When exploring big ideas rising out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, none impacts residents of this great state more than the Wisconsin Idea. It’s a principle that took hold in the early 1900s by key leaders who believed education should serve all residents and be used as a catalyst for societal good. No other state can claim that tradition.

As we prepared this month to highlight some exceptionally inventive research projects at UW-Madison, I thought about our state’s role in birthing public radio. In fact, public radio turned 100 earlier this year and deserves recognition for enriching our lives through its variety of programming.

In his book, “Wisconsin on the Air: 100 Years of Public Broadcasting in the State That Invented It,” Jack Mitchell tells of the first broadcast in early 1917 when the University of Wisconsin went on the air with station 9XM, now WHA. Mitchell, professor emeritus in the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication, was the first employee of National Public Radio and was instrumental in developing the flagship program “All Things Considered.” He later led Wisconsin Public Radio for 21 years. (I’m lucky to serve with Mitchell on the board of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.)

Many of us rely on WPR for not only news and discussion of issues, but also thoughtful entertainment, music and the latest trends. On Tuesday morning commutes before my husband and I bought a house closer to my office, I learned tips on how to better manage my personal finances through “On Your Money” with host Joy Cardin and financial whiz Kevin McKinley. On my way home, I’d tune in to “Q” with then-host Shad, who opened my ears to new artists in this syndicated show by Public Radio International. It’s as if I was on a road trip with really smart people. I was disappointed when WPR switched the “Q” time slot to 9 p.m. Of course I could have voiced my opinion to WPR director Mike Crane during the monthly “Mondays with Mike” on “The Joy Cardin Show.” That’s a good public service for listeners.

As you read our August cover story, starting on page 44, I hope you’ll think about how fortunate we are to live in a state that historically led the way in progressive thought and encourages big ideas. We should never forget the far-reaching impact of our educational system through the Wisconsin Idea.

Karen Lincoln Michel is editor of Madison Magazine. Comments and letters can be sent to 7025 Raymond Road, Madison, WI 53719, or kmichel@madisonmagazine.com. Also, follow @karenmichel on Twitter.